Newly displaced in Syria in urgent need of protection, shelter

Worsening hostilities in Syria’s Idlib province are putting close to a million people in grave danger

The conflict in Syria is about to reach its ninth year. Over 5.6 million people have fled Syria since then. But in the last couple of months, escalating violence in northwest Syria has forced close to 950,000 people to flee their homes or shelters amidst freezing conditions, compounding the already disastrous humanitarian situation there.

Newly displaced civilians are trapped in the ongoing conflict and desperately fleeing for their lives amidst snow, flooding, and sub-zero temperatures. Women and children are sleeping in unsafe buildings, mosques and schools. Some 17,000 people are reportedly still living under trees and in open spaces, with no or very limited access to basic services. Existing settlements have become overcrowded, and even finding a place in an unfinished building is close to impossible.

Syria. Freezing cold day in a displacement camp in Idlib

Displaced families face a freezing cold day in a displacement camp in Idlib. © Ritzau Scanpix

Syria. Displaced Syrians fleeing ongoing armed attacks

Syrian families fleeing ongoing armed attacks. © Ritzau Scanpix

Syria. Displaced Syrian girls stand in the back of a truck parked at a newly-established camp

Displaced Syrian girls stand in the back of a truck parked at a newly-established camp.© Ritzau Scanpix

Syria. A Syrian child looks up as relatives load belongings onto a truck as they prepare to leave the town of Binnish

More than half of those who have been forced to flee are women and children. © Ritzau Scanpix

Syria. Displaced Syrian women and children, who fled from southern Idlib, gather around a fire in Afrin

Displaced Syrian women and children gather around a fire. © Ritzau Scanpix

Worsening hostilities

There are more than four million civilians in northwestern Syria. More than half of them are internally displaced – most of them having fled several times.  Conditions have continued to worsen due to extreme winter conditions and flooding. Even the sharp devaluation of their currency has made it more difficult for families to purchase basic commodities.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi calls for a cessation of hostilities and appeals for urgent action allow people trapped in the conflict to move to safety. “We need an end to the fighting and access to safety to preserve lives,” said Grandi. “The UN Secretary General has appeal for parties to the conflict to respect the rules of war. Every day that passes, the call is more urgent. Thousands of innocent people cannot pay the price of a divided international community, whose inability to find a solution to this crisis is going to be a grave stain on our collective international conscience,”

A call for safety

UNHCR and other humanitarian partners are providing aid and protection services to those who were forced to flee from their home in northwest Syria. Field staff delivered non-food items (NFIs) and emergency shelter. UNHCR continues to recalibrate their response as more and more people are displaced.

“Let me be clear,” said Grandi. “As humanitarian agencies, we are striving to save lives, but the space for these efforts is shrinking. In the face of such suffering, humanitarian aid alone cannot be the answer.”

Aid agencies are seeking safe humanitarian access and the safety of field staff. UNHCR aims to reach 275,000 people with emergency aid and support another 84,000 with shelter. In 2019 alone, UNHCR delivered core-relief items such as blankets, mattresses, and tarpaulins and emergency shelter to more than 350,000 people. UNHCR was also able to provide protection services such as counselling and psychosocial support for more than 153,000 people who fled from their homes.

UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations are trying to reach people by all means possible. But given shifting front lines, access to those forced to flee remains a key challenge. In recent weeks, a number of humanitarian actors have been killed or injured in attacks. The intensity and scale of displacement has outstripped capacity and more resources and funding are urgently needed.